Storyteller, Part 1


Recently, I was watching old episodes of the MTV show “Storytellers”, where the musical guests sing their popular songs in an acoustic environment and then give the audience some background about how the songs came to be. It got me wondering….would readers like to know the “story” behind each of my books?


Suffice it to say, that is how this blog post series began.


Today’s post is all the background and juicy information on my first novel, “Losing Faith”, which was published in 2014.


The story begins in 2010. As many of you know, my best friend lost her life to breast cancer in October of 2010. During the months that followed, and as my grief spiraled from anger to disbelief, I began to seek normalcy in daily treadmill workouts. I’d plug in my earphones, boot up my favorite book on my Kindle, and escape from the world for a short time.


So, one day I was walking along, and the song, “Each Coming Night” by Iron and Wine began to play. Something about that song ignited the spark inside my brain to write a story based on my friend’s battle with cancer and her subsequent death. When she was ill, I had started a diary of sorts, if for nothing else than to give me a platform to release my emotions. But as I was trudging along on the treadmill that day, and listening to the song on repeat many, many times, I realized it wouldn’t feel right to pen a true telling of her life during those final months. I could, though, write a fictional story based on MY life after losing her.


As with most things I wrote back then, I had no clear outline other than I knew what I wanted the story “say”. I wanted my readers to see my main character Grace’s challenges in the months following her best friend’s (Faith) death. My characters were loosely defined in my head: Grace, petite with dark hair and blue eyes, Faith a redhead with green eyes, just like my best friend. Ryan, the other main character and eventual love interest of Grace, was exactly what I needed to push this story from a non-fictional one to a romance novel. In my head, Ryan looked exactly like Jay Ryan, the character in the “Beauty & The Beast” TV show that I was addicted to back then.


I decided to set my story in Monterey, California, a city a few hours away that I was familiar with. I wanted Grace to have a new best friend, someone to fully understand her and help her deal with her grief and eventual feelings toward Ryan. Moose – the new best friend – was a sort-of homage to all the friends who had walked beside me during my friend’s illness and beyond. I had no clear image of him in my head, but I knew he had to be a big teddy-bear of a guy who Grace would immediately connect with. He is one of the funniest and best characters I’ve ever written.


The title of the book, “Losing Faith” (something I really struggled with), had two meanings: Faith was Grace’s best friend who died from breast cancer. Also, I wanted the reader to see that how Grace struggled with her religious faith (such as it was), something that I still battle even now, almost twelve years later. Unfortunately, the meaning of the title meant nothing to anyone else, and some even interpreted it as being a religious tell all, which it most certainly was not.


I wrote the book in about six weeks. It was actually easy, all things considered. I had no grandiose ideas that the novel would ever get published; I was just happy to get the words down and release some of the grief. One day I was talking with my husband about the story and he said, “You should publish it.” He went on to send me a link to AuthorHouse publishing, and after a few more conversations, I sent away for some information.


Back then, I didn’t know one damn thing about the publishing industry. Truth be told, I believe to this day that AuthorHouse took advantage of my naivety. However, they did offer me what I believed was the perfect first step into seeing my work published: They would guide me though the process, but I would maintain complete creative control. And that was something I was never, ever going to let go of, especially for THIS book.


The entire process took about 4 months. Some of the folks at AuthorHouse were amazing, but some were nothing more than greedy salespeople. And yet, I bought into it. I believed them when they told me my book was amazing, because in my mind it was. The editor they provided did a brief pass over the book, and suggested some very minor changes, which I immediately approved of because I didn’t know better. But the cover was one I loved, and to this day I still do. You see, sunflowers were my friend’s favorite flower.


When I finally received the final copy of the book and it was ready to publish, I took the pages I had printed (cover included) and finally disclosed to my parents and brother that I was publishing a book. They were so happy for me, and my mom (a huge reader of romance books), immediately asked to read it. From that day on, she has read every book I’ve written.


I’ll never forget the feeling of holding my first book in my hands and seeing the words I’d written in print on the page. It’s a feeling that is almost indescribable, though I do recall a deep, bittersweet pain in my chest. This book would most likely never have been published were it not for what my friend went through. I’d trade it – and all the books that followed – just to have more time with her.


“Losing Faith” isn’t my best work, and it’s fair to say I’ve grown as a writer in the years that have followed. But the story will always be near and dear to my heart, and will always remind me of the gal with the infectious laugh whom I called my friend.


One thing I did realize when I was writing this book, is that sometimes even when you don’t expect it, another character’s story will come to life and need to be told as well. And thus, book 2 began – “Loving Emma” – which will be featured in Part 2 of my Storyteller blog post series.

-AJ

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